Is Eating Fish Harmful To Pregnant Women?
Fish is a very nutritious food. The Omega-3 fatty acids found in some fish can help protect against heart diseases and reduce the risk of cancer, relieve inflammatory diseases, and reduce the probability of developing arthritis. For pregnant women, there are certain risks associated with eating fish. The mercury levels in fish can actually be harmful. Consuming fish with a high level of mercury can cause harm to a developing baby’s nervous system.
Mercury can be found naturally in the environment but it is also released into the air though various types of industrial pollution. Mercury is released into the air and then ends up in streams and oceans where it becomes methylmercury. The fish feeding in these waters then absorb this methylmercury and it builds up in their systems. This means that when someone eats them, it ends up in their system as well. The levels of methylmercury vary depending on area and type of fish.
The best way to avoid high levels of mercury for expecting or nursing mothers is to abstain from eating tilefish, king mackerel, shark, and swordfish because these types of seafood are usually very high in mercury. Since they are predator fish that eat lots of smaller fish, they accumulate more mercury. Pregnant or nursing women want to avoid high levels of mercury because when mercury builds up in the body of the mother, the young infant or even the fetus, it may cause irreversible damage to the nervous system as well as the development of the brain.
It’s important to note that some types of fish are fine for pregnant or nursing women to eat. Fish like tuna, shrimp, salmon, catfish, and Pollock are usually low in mercury. Nevertheless, fish should never be consumed in large quantities when pregnant. Instead, you should only consume about 12 ounces of fish, or two average meals, per week. If you do eat more than the recommended amount, cut back for the next couple of weeks. Just make sure to even things out so it doesn’t become a pattern.
When it comes to fish that a relative brings home, you should always be cautious. Firstly, you should identify the type of fish that was caught. Then check your local advisories to see if there are any warnings for mercury levels in local fish. If there are none, it’s safe to eat, but if you find no information at all, it’s best to exercise caution. Eat up to 6 ounces, usually a single meal, but then do not consume any other seafood for at least a week.
For more information check the following links:
Government Advice for Women: Official government report on whether or not women should eat fish or shellfish.
Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks: An online book evaluating the risks and benefits of seafood.
EPA Advisory: Explains what types of fish are safe to eat and vice versa.
Seafood and Your Health: Discusses the best types of fish to consume.
Advice on Eating Fish: Provides information on eating fish and mercury levels.